Minnesota's Biggest Summer Marching Band Competition


'Parade' could be his middle name

Ken Martinson has a passion for marching bands, and it may be most evident by the single word on his personalized license plates: PARADE.
As coordinator of the Vikingland Band Festival since its inception, Ken has literally organized his life around "band season."
His involvement with the Alexandria Area Chamber of Commerce began in 1981, when he was hired as an all-around maintenance and office worker. For the first Vikingland Band Festival -- which was held in 1985 after Ken's senior year of high school -- Ken participated both as Festival coordinator and Alexandria band member.
"Jim Clayton MADE me march with the band! Even though it was a hectic day, I'm really glad I did march," Ken says.
It seems unusual for a high school kid to pull off and organize a parade of that stature...until you learn that Ken was less than seven years old when he organized his first parade.
"We lived on tenth avenue until Ken was seven, and the band often practiced right in front of our house," recounts his mother, DeLois. "On days that the band didn't march by, Ken and the neighbor kids would create their own parades in the back yard."
These first experiences in marching laid the foundation for Ken's commitment to marching bands and drum corps. When Ken reached high school, he was thrilled to meet the new band director, John Anderson, who had big plans for the marching band.
"John has been one of the biggest influences in my life and always comes to mind when people ask me about my role models," said Ken. "He's a very confident person and sets high standards."
Ken was a member of the Alexandria marching band during its "building years."
"My first realization that we were not very good was at the Montevideo Fiesta Days parade in 1982," Ken recalls. "We were all lounging in the shade before the parade when the Litchfield band marched by. Now THAT was how to march!"
By 1985, the Alexandria program had taken off. The highlight of Ken's marching career was performing with the band when it captured its first Grand Champion award from the Minneapolis Aquatennial.
"The senior class of '85 had a lot of strong band students, and we always felt that our class was the one that really made the difference for the Alexandria band. In fact, 1985 was the band's first and only undefeated season."
After graduating with honors from Jefferson (he ranked second in the class), Ken attended Concordia College in Moorhead.
Ken never left the Alexandria band, as upon graduating he joined the staff as color guard instructor. His interest in flags and rifles had been sparked in 1983 when he saw a performance by the Madison Scouts Drum and Bugle Corps.
"I immediately knew that I wanted to do that," Ken says.
The timing was perfect, as the Alexandria band added a rifle line that same year. He began creating portions of the rifle routines, and by 1985 he was choreographer for the entire color guard.
In 1987, Ken broadened his color guard experience and fulfilled a dream by touring with the nationally-ranked Sky Ryders Drum and Bugle Corps of Hutchinson, Kan.
"I gained a great deal of experience on the national tour, and I have grand memories from our placement in the Top 12 at the Drum Corps International World Championships."
The fresh ideas Ken gleaned from his drum corps experience have clearly enhanced the Alexandria band program both in terms of technique and creativity. He also brought his expertise to the Bertha-Hewitt band where he also instructs the color guard. He continues to stay on top of modern techniques by attending national color guard conventions and competitions.
His exposure to the drum and bugle corps scene also prompted him to pursue bringing a corps contest to Alexandria. After two years of groundwork, his goal was fulfilled when the first Drum Corps Classic was held in 1991.
In 1989 Ken graduated summa cum laude from Concordia with a double major in business administration and advertising communications. His "real" job is with Great Plains Software in Fargo as a writer/designer in the marketing communications department.
"I owe a lot of thanks to Great Plains Software. The company extends a lot of flexibility to my schedule and allows me to take unpaid time off each June. Some people in Alexandria are confused as to what my real job is," Ken quips. "I work about 250 hours on the Festival each year, plus another 200 working with the Alexandria and Bertha- Hewitt bands. People see me around here so much that they don't even know I live in Fargo."
Ken attributes much of his success to his strong family ties. He raves about the support his family gives him on a typical Festival weekend. His brother Cal puts in hours of work providing the sound systems for the corps show, parade and awards ceremony. Cal's wife, Kathy, is a corps guide. Brother Keith and his "Four Dimensions" quartet have sung the national anthem. His mother, DeLois, manages schedules and runs errands. His father, Marv, served on the Festival committee for seven years and still helps out by moving bleachers and hanging the U.S. flags along Broadway.
Ken also gives credit to the Chamber of Commerce staff, the Vikingland Festivals Executive Committee, and the more than 100 people who volunteer to help on parade day.
"Special mention should be given to the Festival's part- time coordinator. For the last five years the Chamber has hired a band member to assist with the day-to-day details and arrangements. Keith Martinson held that position for two years and Matt Hill for the last three. Their help has been invaluable."
Ken has a great deal of respect for his fellow Grand Marshals, John Anderson and Jim Clayton.
"Jim was my first boss, and he taught me how to be excited about what you're doing. He's a great promoter.
"Both men allowed me to have a great deal of responsibility even though I was only 17 when I started teaching the band and coordinating the parade. Their confidence in me was very motivating."
Ken agreed several years ago to coordinate the Festival through its tenth year. With that pledge now fulfilled, he plans to reduce his role in the future.
Committee Chair Al Quam sums up Ken's value to the Festival and the drum corps contest by saying, "We often joke at committee meetings that Ken is the Festival Coordinator for life, because we can't imagine getting through the weekend without him. Ken's attention to detail is the main reason the Festival has been such a great success."
Photo courtesy of Vernon Studio

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